New DMV Policies Target Repeat Dangerous Drivers — If They’re Drunk

This afternoon, Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Barbara J. Fiala announced new policies to make it tougher for repeat drunk or drugged drivers to get behind the wheel.

Until now, New York did not normally strip lifetime driving privlieges from repeat drunk or drugged drivers. Presently, if a driver is convicted of DWI three times in four years, his license could be suspended for as little as five years, after which he could reapply for a new license. A driver is only likely to have his license revoked if he has DWI convictions from two separate crashes resulting in injury.

Under the new policy, DMV will deny a license if the driver has five or more DWI convictions in a lifetime, or three or more DWI convictions in 25 years, plus another serious driving offense, such as a fatal crash. For those drivers without another serious driving offense, DMV could apply restrictions, such as a mandatory ignition interlock device or limitations on when and where the applicant can drive.

Currently, repeat drunk drivers who have licenses revoked or suspended for up to a year can either wait for the full term of the suspension, or get their licenses back in as little as seven weeks by completing a remedial education program. DMV will now require those drivers to wait until their full suspension or revocation term has ended.

The new policies closely match the goals of Charlotte’s Law, a bill that would set standards for revoking the licenses of repeat drunk and dangerous drivers. In April, Assemblyman James Tedisco, one of the bills co-sponsors, asked Cuomo to administratively implement the bill’s provisions. By June, the bill had stalled in both the Senate and Assembly.

Because the DMV’s new policies apply only to drunk or drugged drivers, instead of all repeat dangerous drivers, they fall short of more comprehensive reform proposed by Charlotte’s Law.

Despite the limitation, Tedisco welcomed today’s announcement, calling it “a good first step” in defining serial dangerous drivers and revoking their licenses. “We are still calling for permanent revocation of serial dangerous drivers who do not face any DWI/DUI offenses,” he said in a statement, “but are just as reckless on the roads.”

AAA New York and Mothers Against Drunk Driving also voiced support for the new policy. “Usually a governor doesn’t order an administrative action like this” for drunk driving regulations, said MADD spokesman Frank Harris.  “This is a first, and MADD does applaud the initiative of the governor,” he said, adding, “Administrative sanctions are a sure and swift punishment.”

However, MADD wants lawmakers to focus more on ignition interlock devices and closing loopholes in Leandra’s Law, which requires the devices for convicted drunk drivers. “Just taking away the license of an offender does not stop them from driving drunk,” Harris said.

Last week’s Mayor’s Management Report revealed that in the last fiscal year, of 291 New York City traffic fatalities, 18 were a result of drunk driving crashes. Although this number is up from 10 in 2011, it continues a longer-term downward trend.

Transportation Alternatives applauded the new policy but asked Cuomo to address the top killer on New York’s streets. “In New York City, speeding kills more people than distracted driving and drunk driving combined,” TA noted. “Governor Cuomo can take his strong record on traffic enforcement to the next step and back the Neighborhood Speeds for Neighborhood Streets Act in the State legislature, authorizing speed cameras for New York City.”